Mars, Roman god of War (fourth planet from the Sun).
Like a badge of blood in the sky, the Red Planet has long stood for the gods of
war. Mars’ symbol is seen below.
It seems natural that the Greeks named the fourth planet after Ares, since it shines
with a red color, resembling blood, which is appropriate for the god of War. The
Romans identified their god of War, Mars, with the Greek Ares; now we know the planet
as Mars. Mars was the Roman war god; his shield and spear form the planet’s
symbol. He was also a god of agriculture before becoming associated with Ares. Whereas
Ares often received a bad name because “war” implied explicit violence, Mars represented
securing peace of a nation through war. Therefore, he was more highly revered amongst
the Romans than Ares was amongst the Greeks. In the poems of Homer, there are such
epithets as these applied to Ares: scourge of mortals, piercer of shields, the bloodstained
one. The Romans were well-known as a warlike people; therefore, it is not strange
that Mars became their patron god. They built temples for him and honored him by
many celebrations during the year. One of the most famous parts of the city of Rome
was called the Field of Mars (Campus Martius), and it was here that the army was
reviewed and the spoils of war dedicated after the return of the armies from some
successful campaign. The word martial, pertaining to war, came from Mars,
the god of War. He was one of the most important of the Roman gods and an entire
month of the year was dedicated to him. We still call the third month of the year,
March, in his honor.The month was so named because Mars, the patron god of the Romans,
was a war-god, and spring campaigns usually began about that time. The Roman year
once began with March before it became January.
Scientific facts about Mars:
It wasn’t until 1877 that the planet Mars was found to have any satellites;
but, in that year, the American astronomer Asaph Hall discovered two of them. They
were very small, being only five or ten miles in diameter, but they were satellites.
Hall named them “Phobos” and “Deimos” so that in the heavens,
as in the myths and in reality, war is accompanied by fear and terror.
Mar’s characteristic color is primarily due to the high content of oxidized
iron in its surface layers. The surface is covered with fine dust that is often
whipped up into dust storms by winds blowing at up to 200 mph (325 km/h). Water
must have flowed on Mars at some time. The evidence comes from photos of the Valles
Marineris taken by the Viking 1 orbiter (launched in 1975 and reaching Mars on July
20, 1976). The Valles Marineris is a system of canyons and cracks of geological
origin in the surface of the planet. Some of them show signs of water erosion, with
clearly marked tributaries and winding, dried-up riverbeds. No one is certain when
the water was there, but it is assumed to have been many millions of years ago.